Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Guest Blog by Menna van Praag - Populating a Fantasy Novel with Historical Figures - March 19, 2013

Please welcome Menna van Praag to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The House at the End of Hope Street will be published on April 4, 2013 by Pamela Dorman Books (Penguin).

Populating a Fantasy Novel with Historical Figures

Do you remember the game: who would you invite to dinner if you could have anyone, living or dead? I’m not sure if it includes fictional characters – dining with Elizabeth Bennet, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre would be rather fun – but if that’s not allowed, then I’d want my literary heroines. I can’t imagine anything more exciting that discussing style and story with writers like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Agatha Christie. Just the idea of asking Daphne du Maurier about her inspiration for Rebecca makes me giddy with joy.

In my debut novel, The House at the End of Hope Street, I decided to take that game one step further and create a house where all these women still live or, rather, don’t live. So the house is a retirement home for famous ghosts who give advice to the living residents of Hope Street, advice on everything from romance to writing. It was fantastic fun researching all these women and then throwing them in a room together. Imagine if Beatrix Potter and Dorothy Parker had to share a bedroom for all eternity. Would they be friends or would they bicker? Would they respect each other’s writing or would they be contemptuous and smug?

After several months of immersion in the lives and words of these great women I got a real feeling for their personalities, so when I sat down and wrote their scenes, I could already hear their voices in my head. Of course it was the most fun to put women together who might tease and taunt each other, especially those who had opposing literary tastes. Virginia Woolf, who didn’t pull her punches, was fabulous fun to write. One of my favorite lines in the book is when she dismisses Beatrix Potter’s entire literary output as “those bunny books”. I have no idea if Woolf might actually say such a thing, but those are the lovely liberties one is allowed to take in fantasy novels. You don’t have to worry about historical accuracy. Phew.

After populating the house with my literary heroines, I added a few more famous women for good measure: some suffragettes, actresses, scientists and Florence Nightingale. Again, it was great fun capturing the essence of their characters while also taking liberties with history. At one point Peggy, the psychic landlady, refers to Flo as a “lovely girl, if a little too fond of sailors.” Now, factually speaking, this is absolutely inaccurate but being able to disregard the facts whenever you choose is one of the many delights of writing fantasy!

About The House at the End of Hope Street

The House at the End of Hope Street
Pamela Dorman Books (Penguin), April 4, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

A magical debut about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need

Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.

She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.

Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.

About Menna

Menna van Praag studied Modern History at Oxford University. Working as a waitress after graduation, it was seven years until she published Men, Money & Chocolate, an autobiographical fable about her life as an aspiring writer. It has so far been published in 25 languages. The House at the End of Hope Street is her first work of literary fiction. She’s just finished her second novel, The Dress Shop of Dreams. When she’s not writing, Menna loves reading, movies and eating cake.

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